SALT LAKE CITY — Co-workers say Baleigh Bagshaw always had a smile on her face.
“She was really sweet,” said Gwendolyn Robinson. “She worked very hard. She was a good girl.”
If the 15-year-old was going to be late for work, she would always call, her co-workers at Leatherby’s Family Creamery said. Even on Monday, her mother called to inform the store that Baleigh wouldn’t be coming in because of a family “emergency,” said Diana Ngyeun, who co-owns the store with her sister, Robinson.
It wasn’t until Tuesday that employees learned Baleigh had been attacked and killed inside her house after she came home from school.
“I found out the news this morning and I’m devastated,” Robinson said while fighting tears. “I expect her to be walking into work still. It’s not computing. … She’s always walking through that door and I’ll be expecting her tonight. And she’s not going to show up.”
Baleigh arrived home, 1624 W. 500 North, from West High School just after 3 p.m. Monday and, responsible as always, called her mother to check in.
She was speaking with her mom when a man began assaulting her.
“While she was on the phone with her mother, she was brutally attacked while inside of her home. Her mother heard the attack going on and then the phone went dead. At that time, the mother called a neighbor to go check on Baleigh,” Salt Lake Police Sgt. Brandon Shearer said.
“I can’t even guess what the mother would be going through right now. Our hearts and thoughts are with her.”
Shearer called it a “very violent attack,” but police have not yet said how she died or if any weapons were involved. It was unknown Tuesday if the person who attacked Baleigh was already inside the house when she arrived at home or if he came in after.
Police did not release any information about what Baleigh may have told her mother while on the phone or whether her mother heard anything that could identify the attacker. When asked if Baleigh identified the man while on the phone, Shearer said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Police continued a nationwide search Tuesday for Shaun French, 24, whom they are calling a person of interest. Shearer said French should be considered “armed and dangerous.”
Police confirmed Tuesday that French used to live in the same house as Baleigh and her family. Shearer declined to say how long or how recently French had lived there, but noted he was not living there at the time of Baleigh’s death.
An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday afternoon for French, charging him with three counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. The charges were filed in court but were sealed.
According to police, French and Baleigh had a consensual, though illegal relationship. Shearer did not know how long the relationship lasted.
Detectives believe French may be driving a 1991 Daihatsu Rocky SUV with Wyoming plate 19 13974. The camouflage-green paint job makes the car stand out, police said. They believe French may be traveling on I-80 to either Evanston, Wyoming; the Denver area; or Cleveland, Ohio. Shearer said French has family or contacts in each of those places.
Investigators finished collecting evidence from inside the house in the Fairpark neighborhood on Tuesday. Bags and boxes of evidence sat on the driveway Tuesday morning waiting to be taken to the Utah State Crime Lab. Shearer said evidence in this case was “widely spread throughout the home and the area.”
French does not have any signficant criminal history in Utah. According to his Facebook page, he worked at Intermountain Plantings Inc. and went to high school in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Baleigh had worked at Leatherby’s for a little over a year, according to her co-workers, who on Tuesday recalled her “bubbly” personality. She worked hard, Ngyeun said, and then was known to enjoy a hot fudge brownie.
“She’s amazing. We love her a lot,” she said.
Baleigh wanted to follow in her older sister’s footsteps and serve in the U.S. military, said Scott Arnold, her LDS bishop. He recalled the teen as an excellent student who was a joy to be around at youth activities.
“She was just a fun person and just had a great smile and a great attitude and not a mean bone on her,” Arnold said.
Arnold added, “I know my family and all of our immediate neighbors around — not just members of our LDS ward, but the neighborhood in general — is saddened to lose somebody like her.”
Talia Zamir, also a 15-year-old freshman at West High, became emotional as she described finding out about the death of a girl she’d gotten to know during school productions of “Grease” and “The Crucible.”
The news came in a late-night text Monday from a longtime friend of Bagshaw’s but Talia said what’s most shocking is not knowing why her friend was killed.
Talia said she worries about occasionally being home alone as Baleigh was. “It’s so scary that something like that can happen.”
Talia said Baleigh, considered part of West High’s theater family as a member of the crew that moved props and built sets, deserves to be remembered as more than a victim.
“She was incredibly smart and talented and she always got along with people around her. She was really friendly and nice,” Talia said. “And that’s what makes everything so heartbreaking, honestly.”
Two other 15-year-old freshmen who knew Bagshaw from elementary school, Abby Chodos and Chloe Davie, said they spent much of the day with grief counselors.
“We really haven’t had long to process it yet because we both found out this morning,” Abby said.
“This whole thing has been horrible,” Chloe chimed in. “My mom read the story in the news and she wanted to pick me up right away. But I wanted to be with my friends. I’m taking the bus home because I wanted to ride with Abby.”
While leaving school Tuesday, Mikala Jackson, a 15-year-old fellow West High student who was in PE class with Baleigh, remembered her as being “really beautiful in everything.”
“She had a lot of people that loved her that always wanted to hang out with her and stuff,” she said. “She was only 15. And she can’t live that (life) now because somebody wanted to be selfish.”
Tributes filled social media as word of Baleigh’s death spread.
“I remember you were the shy new girl at Northwest, and when I approached you, you were so sweet. My prayers go out to you and your family,” one girl wrote. “Your smile was contagious and even if you didn’t know me, you were so nice to me. I hope they catch whoever did this, justice will be served. Rest easy love.”
Some mentioned that Baleigh was part of the dog show community, including the Great Basin Non-Sporting Group.
“It is with the heaviest heart that I inform our dog show community and friends of the tragic loss of Baleigh Bagshaw,” one woman posted. “I know that all of us will have Shawna and her family and close friends in our thoughts and prayers through this most difficult time.”
A GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for funeral expenses was established in Baleigh’s name Tuesday. It had raised more than $6,000 in about nine hours.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero, Lisa Riley Roche, Ashley Imlay, Ladd Egan